Have you considered doing some community service work during high school but can't find anything that fits your interests?
Do you want to have more ownership over what kind of service work you do? If so, then making your own community service project may be the right idea for you.
Read on for a step-by-step guide that will tell you everything you need to know to complete a successful community service project.
Why Should You Do Community Service?
Community service work can be a great way to spend some free time in high school, but did you also know that it can also be a big help when you apply to colleges?
Colleges like seeing community service work as an extracurricular activity because it shows that you are actively involved in something that will better yourself and the world. By doing community service, you show that you have a real interest in making a positive change in your community.
Community service shows admissions officers that you have a number of the "intangible" qualities that they're looking for in students. For example, through service work, you can show your ability to balance a lot of different activities at once while also maintaining your course load. This shows that you can stay organized and take initiative.
Finally, community service can help with some of the more concrete aspects of your college applications as well. The work you do can be great subject material for an application essay, can lead to good letters of recommendation, and — perhaps most importantly — can lead to scholarships!
Why Should You Start a Community Service Project?
If you're ready to start doing some community service work, you may want to consider starting your own community service project.
Usually, students will choose to volunteer their time for a pre-established organization. However, creating your own community service project gives you the opportunity to have greater control over what you want to work on and what you want to achieve.
Community service projects are different from traditional community service work because they are usually focused around one event or one goal and have distinct end points. For example, you may decide to host a race to raise money and awareness for a certain disease, or you could plan a blood drive to help out after a disaster. These kinds of projects require a lot of planning and careful execution, so they're best attempted by students who have confidence in their ability to follow through in those areas.
Though planning community service projects can be considerably more difficult than traditional community service work, it can also pay off in big ways, especially when considering your college applications:
- It shows leadership skills. This is a big thing that colleges want to see in your extracurricular activities. According to a DoSomething.org survey, over 50% of admissions officers agree that being a leader in a project or running your own project is the best way to learn from community service experience. Why do admissions officers love leadership? Remember, they are on the lookout for the leaders of tomorrow. Show them now that you have the gumption to be one!
- It shows the ability to plan and organize. While leadership can refer to an intangible ability to inspire others, the planning and organization skills it takes to pull off a successful community service project are noteworthy in their own right. To run a large-scale event, you will need to coordinate many people, accurately predict expenses, and create a timeline. All of these are important skills that will help you in college and the future.
- It shows your ability to work with others. Most community service projects will be undertaken with a group. By organizing one, you are showing that you have great people skills. You can recognize different people’s talents and understand how to use them to maximum effect.
- You will show initiative and innovativeness. You saw a problem and decided that you were going to be the one to fix it. Moreover, nobody else told you how you were going to go about doing that. This shows great critical thinking and problem-solving skills that colleges love to see.
Now that you know some of the reasons for making the effort to do a community service project let's go through the steps of successfully planning a project.
10 Steps for Starting a Successful Community Service Project
Step 1: Find Out What Is Needed in Your Community
There are many ways to do this. Start out by asking your friends and family members if there are things that they have seen that need a solution. Talk to neighbors. Engage in a community discussion board such as Nextdoor.com. Talk to community officials (local government) and police officers, and speak with non-profit groups in the area.
Once you have an idea of the issues present in your area, spend some time researching them. What is the history of the issue? Is it a new thing or has it been around a long time? What realistic steps can be taken to address it? What, if anything, have other groups done in the past to fix the issue?
It’s also a good idea to research what kind of events have taken place in your community in the past. What projects were successful? What sort of activities had nobody show up? You can do this by talking to your local city government or local non-profit groups that have held events. You may also know from personal experience of events that you have attended. Which were the most engaging and resonated with your community?
Step 2: See What You Have the Ability to Do
It's time to start asking yourself the tough, specific questions. Remember to be honest and realistic as you answer them:
- What skills and talents do you have?
- How many people do you realistically think you will be able to get to help you?
- What skills and talents will they have?
- How many hours per week can you devote to the project?
- How soon do you want to do the project?
- What is a realistic amount of money you will be able to raise for the project?
- Do you have any materials at hand that will be helpful?
Step 3: Choose a Project
List your activity ideas. If you have a group of people you're going to work with, allow them to help you rank the ideas from most to least important. Vote on or decide which activity you want to do. Make sure it is reasonable, within your means, and that you can actually make an impact.
Be honest with yourself and your group when assessing how to make the most impact. For example, imagine that you have decided to build a home for a homeless family. Would the experience of building the home yourselves add any value for the homeless family? On the flip side, could it cause any harm? Would it be more efficient and beneficial for the family if you simply raised the money for the home and allowed professionals to do the work?
Be realistic with your expectations and honest about the best way to reach your end goal.
Step 4: Develop a Plan
To start, write down exactly what you are hoping to accomplish. This will include a big-picture goal as well as the specific smaller tasks that you will need to do in order to get to that main goal.
You also need to go into the practicalities of the project. How much equipment will you need? How many people will you need to successfully complete each part of the project? How much time can each person commit to the project? How will you organize different volunteers?
Remember that you're responsible for the success of the project and one large part of that is that it takes place safely and legally. Do some background work to check out your liabilities and research the potential complications that can arise from the project you're planning.
Step 5: Recruit Your Volunteers
If you don’t already have a group of people helping you, now is the time to get some people involved. You can advertise in local newspapers, online forums, or websites like VolunteerMatch.org.
Also, ask friends and family if they know people who would like to be involved.
For each person, make sure that you have their contact information (email and phone number), as well as what areas they are best able to help in (making food, publicity, etc.).
Get specific time commitments from your members. How much time can they contribute every week? How much time can they contribute on the day of the event? Make sure they are realistic and don’t commit more than their schedules will allow.
Step 6: Make a Budget
Now that you know your goals, you have to get specific with how much money is going to be needed to make your plan come to life.
There are several programs out there that can help you make organized, detailed budgets. You can also do this in Excel or Word.
Make sure you list the type of items that you need – be specific! How many will you need of each item? What is the cost per item? What is the total cost?
Don’t forget that your budget has to include more than just the physical items involved in your project. If you need a license to have an event or if you are going to pay someone to make an appearance, that will need to be factored into the budget as well.
Finally, be sure to consider practical needs, like the cost of transportation and food on the day of the event for your volunteers.
Step 7: Make a Timeline
You should already have a rough idea of how long your project will take, but now you need to narrow it down to the specifics.
Pick an end date for your project that will give you enough time to put it together. Make sure that the date is approved by all necessary authorities.
Make specific schedules for each of your volunteers based on how much time each can contribute. This is important – you don’t want to end up having to do everything yourself at the last minute because you assumed that people would be putting in more hours than they actually can! Try to be realistic with your expectations of what can be accomplished every hour.
Mark specific goals on your timeline. By a certain date, a certain amount of the project should be completed, etc.
Make note of specific things that are critical to success. What are the dates of fundraising events? When will you send press releases to the media?
Step 8: Raise Money
There are a number of ways to raise money: street collection, organized events like raffles or an auction, direct mail donations, asking for contributions through church newsletters, and more.
Increasingly, people are raising money through crowdfunding websites, such as GoFundMe, CrowdRise, DonorsChoose, or Kickstarter. See if any of these are viable options for your plan.
You can also contact local businesses for sponsorship. Offer them some sort of advertisement in return.
Whatever you choose to do, you will need to develop a strategy. Decide what your plan of attack will be to raise the amount needed.
Top Tips for Raising Money:
- Get in touch with local officials to see if they have any tips, advice, or restrictions on how you can raise money
- Check into grants. Many charities will give money to projects that benefit their causes.
- Try to get money from a variety of sources so that you're not too reliant on just one if it happens to fail. Always have a backup plan.
Step 9: Get Publicity
Make a list of contacts at TV stations, newspapers, blogs, magazines, and radio stations. You are generally looking for journalists and editors. There are a number of ways you can get in touch with people who might be interested in covering your story. Start by looking for journalists who have written about similar causes or events in the past. You may be able to find an email address or other contact information by looking at previously-published articles. You should also check local papers to see if there is information about whom to contact for local stories. Finally, you can search websites such as LinkedIn, much of which can be accessed even if you don't have an account.
Initial contact can be made through social media (such as Twitter), or you can try to call or email the right people.
You'll want to talk with them both about the specifics of the project, and why you're doing it. Make sure you let them know who is going to benefit from your project.
Once you have your contacts and they're on board with advertising your project, make sure you stick to your schedule. Send out press releases at the appropriate time. Also, keep your contacts updated with any exciting milestones or achievements (such as reaching your fundraising goal).
You can also easily advertise on your own. Set up a social media account (Facebook and/or Twitter) for the event. Make up a catchy hashtag you can use when talking about the event, and try to get others to use it as well.
Step 10: Do the Project
Now it's time to execute all of your planning!
On the Day of Your Event
It may seem like the hard work is done at this point, but the actual event needs to go off without a hitch!
The first step is to make sure that as much as possible is done and set up the day before the event. Don’t stress yourself out more than you need to on the day of! It’s also good to send out lots of reminders the day before to volunteers, participants, media, and anyone else who is important.
Make sure you have a detailed schedule for what you will do the day of the event. Also, make a list of volunteer contact info, vendor contact info, and who will help in emergencies. Keep this with you at all times.
Try to enjoy yourself, but stay on top of how things are progressing!
Don’t forget to take pictures and stay active on social media during the event.
Congrats on finishing your project!
What to Do Afterward
Once your project is over, you hopefully have experienced and learned new things. Take some time to reflect on this on your own and also get feedback from the volunteers and participants.
What didn’t go to plan? Consider how you could have done things differently and avoided problems.
What went well? Why were those things successful?
What have you learned about yourself? This can be many things like teamwork, leadership, or planning skills.
Also, make sure you stop and consider if you actually were successful in your goals. Did you help your target group? How can you tell that you have made progress and an impact? Take notes of these things.
Finally, take some time to celebrate. You’ve just undertaken and accomplished something that many people would shy away from.
3 Tips to Make Your Project Easier
If the above steps seem daunting, try some of these tips to help make your project a success:
- Try setting up your project through your school. This may make it easier for you to recruit fellow students to volunteer for your event, and it can also give you a convenient place to meet to work on the project.
- Reach out to a wide range of helpers to work on your project. You can do this by advertising in local newspapers, newsletters, through your city government, or on local websites. When your volunteers have a wide range of skills, it can make certain tasks - like contacting the media or making a budget - easier because there is a good chance that someone will have done it before.
- Partner with a local charity or non-profit if you have a mutual cause. The charity may already have registered volunteers so you will have to recruit fewer people, and it may be able to either donate money to your project or have ideas that will make your fundraising easier.
If you would like some inspiration for choosing a community service project, see our list of community service ideas.
If you want to learn more about why volunteering might be a good choice for you, check out the benefits of community service for teens.
Already done a community service project? Learn how to write about your extracurriculars on your college application.
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Mary Ann holds a BA in Classics and Russian from the University of Notre Dame, and an MA from University College London. She has years of tutoring experience and is also passionate about travel and learning languages.